Death Warmed Over

The following is an excerpt from a short piece I wrote about my mother not quite a year before she died, and I reproduce it here by way of introduction to the kind of person she was…

“…My mother is a pioneer and a survivor—she did, after all, make it through the 60’s. She’s been on the cutting edge of social change most of her life, and been places and done things that women today can, thanks to her bra-burning generation, pretty much take for granted. And she hasn’t slowed down at all, either. These days, though she’s the archetypal sweet little old lady—at least to look at her—she actively advocates for gay rights, animal rights, human rights in general, the environment, she volunteers at the local library, and still finds time to walk out into her garden to appreciate the periwinkles, which she advocates as just as serious a part of life as anything else. She’s read and commented on every bit of literature there is to read and comment on, including Hesse, Kerouac, Kazantzakis, Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Nietzsche (a bit of a trial, to be sure), Marx, Freud, Jung, Tolkien, Adams (as in Doug), Camus, Dostoyevsky, and all the rest from classical to modern times, as well as a truly staggering number of mystery authors. She’s an amateur expert on regional Native American culture, a well-rounded appreciator of art from all walks, as well as a rather gifted artist in her own right, and she has traveled all over the world. She speaks Italian fluently, having lived in Italy as a girl, and is something of an expert on the behavior and size of cockroaches in the tropics as the result of an incident involving an egg salad sandwich when she was living in the Philippines in the 50’s. She can even play the accordion! She has adopted or dispensed with social convention on her own advice as a matter of general practice for decades. She is a Master of The Discerning Observation, and can speak with authority on just about any social topic on the board today.

Nonetheless, it is still possible to catch her by surprise.

For example, she went to the “hair benders” the other day for a haircut. Bear in mind that as I said, my mother is the archetypal sweet little old lady—white hair, apple cheeks, twinkle in her eyes and goodies in the cupboard for the kids and grandkids—the whole nine yards. There she is, sitting in a room full of women of various ages who are seriously engaged in attending to the full feminine arsenal of attraction. The woman cutting her hair managed to talk my mother into having her eyebrows waxed. It was kind of fun and nice at first, having her face tinkered with and the warm wax and all. And then:

RRRIIIPPP!!

My mother howled. She said she thought she was going to die. And she was faced with having to have the other eyebrow treated the same way or be lopsided. The other women in the room, having taken my mother’s outward appearance at face value, snickered.

That is until my mother, in stentorian outrage that could have come straight from Mount Olympus, gave voice to the perennial unspoken question:

“PEOPLE DO THIS TO THEIR TWATS!!??”…”

~~~~~~~~~~

You know, I think my mother was the love of my life.

Seems odd to say, doesn’t it? And in a way, a little sad, because traditionally you’re supposed to go find someone who fits that role, and spend your life with them, not just half your life and the other half you have to live without them.

But I never did. Find someone else, I mean. Not so far, anyway. On the other hand, the cool thing is that I started out my life with my soul mate right there from the very first moment.

Wasn’t all peas and carrots, of course. When I was little, Mom and I fought like cats and dogs. She was young, in an awkward marriage, struggling with parents who were more concerned with social niceties than they were with actual human beings, and she already had my older brother as well, a year and a half older than me.

I remember one time when I was about four years old, I was screaming at her “I hate you!” which is the best I could do to express my likely momentary frustration, being so little. Mom reached out instantly and slapped my face so hard my head spun around, and just as fast clapped her hands to her mouth in horror. I howled, of course. I don’t remember that it hurt, but I knew when your Mom slapped you, you were supposed to cry, so I did, and I put some honest effort into it. Then Mom swooped down on me and just enfolded me with her arms. I could feel her shaking.

She told me later that it was at that moment she realized she had to be the one to control the situation. “I just decided to stop screaming at you. You were so little, and you weren’t gonna figure it all out if I was acting like a kid, too.”

I dunno if folks can wrap their brains around how amazing that was. My Mom had spent her entire life isolated from the love of people you’d normally expect to get it from, and her marriage to my father was with a man who couldn’t keep his promises—or break them—with any honesty. The only thing she had to go by, really, was that when she was a child, her parents had servants—Mom lived in Italy starting just after WWII, in the 1950’s, and while my grandparents were busy with their adult lives, the servants took my Mom in and coddled her the way a child should be coddled. That only lasted about 5 years, though, since my grandparents subsequently moved to the Philippines because of my grandfather’s work.

Little enough to be getting on with, eh? But my mother was smart, very stubborn, and built for love. She had no small amount of courage, either. One thing she learned, from being on the receiving end of an unlove that saw all of who she was as just some sort of required adjunct to her parents’ prim and proper lives, was that there isn’t anything more important than being good to people, than appreciating them as is, without trying to step on them or mold them into something they’re not naturally inclined to be.

I benefited tremendously from that. Also, Mom always had lots of weird friends. Lol! I do, too, of course, but these days it’s not as big a deal—Mom was a pioneer, in a number of ways. Not only do I owe her a lot, but we all do. Because of her, and people like her, there are things we can take for granted in life that she had to fight for tooth and nail.

She helped to create me not least of all. I am not given much credit for who I actually am, not even by me, because most people (including me) find it a little strange and scary, but I’ve become better and better at slipping love in between the cracks for folks, and I have my mother to thank in large part for that.

My mother listened to me. She engaged with me. She included me in her esteem for life in general, and she viewed me as an equal in terms of my validity as a human being, and considered me a competent participant in her life and in my own, even when I was still a child. It never crossed her mind to think that my inclination to find exaltation in the ordinary bits and pieces of other people’s lives and being was in any way aberrant, and although she often did call me a romantic, never ONCE did she couple it with the word “hopeless.” That I am still able to find the precious art that exists in each of my friends and loved ones, in each of my acquaintances, in every human endeavor that travels across my awareness—despite living in a world in which such perspicacity is discouraged and even punished—is due to my mother’s wisdom, courage, chutzpah and defiance of a standard that wishes to disqualify love. That I am still able to submit to the exaltation this art inspires in me, and to reach out with it, to try to inspire it in others, is also due to the unstinting love my mother wrapped around me nearly every day of my life.

I wasn’t just lucky to have her. We all were. She taught me to reach out even when it is more than likely I’ll be rebuffed, and touch people whenever I can. She made the absurd possible, such that I am able to conceive of traveling beyond the traditional borders that separate people, when those borders become too much of a separation, shifting to become a cage or a prison.

The reason I can count my successes in this area on the fingers of one hand with fingers left over is because we are rarely given to know the toll of the living. But I have faith that there are more than this, because I’ve seen the end result of others’ endeavors, not the least of which is my mother’s in me.

When my mother died, there was an eternal instant when the whole world simply ceased to make sense. Everything just stopped, and the silence in my mind was like this great white nothing that appeared out of nowhere and wiped everything out without transition. My brother had called me with the news. I was in the hospital having contracted meningitis, it was 6:00 am and I was alone in a sterile room made of sharpened angles of stainless steel and relentless fluorescent light, and that silence might have gone on forever if my brother, infamous for making jokes like mini-horror movies, hadn’t spoken again about 30 seconds later… “Thea, I wouldn’t make a joke about something like this.”

For some reason, that made it possible for me to move in my mind again. Humor, as ever, came to my rescue, and I told my brother that this time I wished he was joking, ‘cause I’d much rather be kicking his f*ckin’ ass right now.

There isn’t any way for the human mind to entirely encompass being so profoundly bereft.

At least, not mine anyway. Not all at once. But I was. Profoundly bereft. I still am. Just it has come to me on little cat feet, by season, by scent, by memory, taste, sounds—anything in which, before, I could take my mother’s presence for granted—serving me with a small piece of her death, one mercifully delicate but implacable bite at a time.

Nonetheless, the wind died down, and I came down to earth. And here I am still, today, flightless. I’m having to learn to how to walk all over again. Whether or not I’ll do well enough to take flight once more remains to be seen, but in the meantime, as a good friend has been known to put it, I keep breathing, and I keep trying.

One thing I have figured out. This morass of loss, combined with the rich landscape of active memory of the time previous to it, contains a tremendous amount of energy, dynamic and always moving with the faltering dance of my soul. Once in a while, and more and more, I find I’m able to tap into that, and use it to accomplish things I might otherwise fear to attempt. It’s as if the energy that sustained my mother’s love for me still exists despite her absence, only it is becoming reformulated and then manifested anew via the love I bear for others.

It’s not the same. But it IS sufficient, and beautiful in and of itself—and I again find, or maybe simply recall what I knew before, only refreshed somehow: the absurd is still possible, and faith isn’t something you have to chase after, because as soon as you start to, it will turn to face you and endeavor to meet you halfway.

I can live with that.

Mom-portrait-150

“Authentic” People–10 Likelihoods

Rose

THIS is an actual blog post that doesn’t really have anything to do with whip making.

TRIGGER WARNING!! Compared to a tweet, this is a long post. If you wanna read a tweet, of course go sign on to Twitter.

I saw someone else’s blog giving a list of 10 things “authentic” people do that most others “don’t.” So, I thought I’d jot down my OWN take on the subject. Here’s 10 things I think “authentic” people are inclined toward. Not exhaustive, and not the same for everyone. But here ya go, a little wisdom from the whip maker’s shop…

1. They’re careful about drawing attention to themselves, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is concern for the burgeoning but so far fragile egos around them, as well as to avoid the slings and arrows of the envious, or those who otherwise feel that standing out automatically means showing off. If they DO allow themselves to stand out, they have a good reason.

Peacock

Do you have any idea how HEAVY this damn tail is?

2. They chose their words carefully, bearing in mind that each of their fellows, including themselves, are moving targets on each their own learning curves. They at once state a position and seek to explore that position relative to others to fine tune it or even change it based on new information, so generally will take an interest in dialogue, but will avoid debate, especially if the only goal is to win. They will practice enough sensitivity to gauge how much truth all at once a person can bear, and remark accordingly, figuring more can be said later, as that person grows and learns how to manage their fear. (And they understand that “fear,” properly managed, is a useful tool, because it tells us when something needs our attention.)

Monster Under the Bed

…and if you DON’T manage your fears….

3. They’re polite enough to take you at face value, while at the same time considering what your agenda might be for however it is you’re acting at any given time. They may play into that, or they may attempt to shift the focus if it seems desireable to do so. If you’re running around like your hair’s on fire, then they’ll probably avoid you, unless they’re in to people like that.

Hair On Fire

I think I’ve made my point here.

4. They know they are not proof against everything, and will admit when they’re in over their head, seeking the advice or assistance of others. At the same time, they have enough confidence to be willing to innovate on the fly, but are also likely to plan ahead.

5. They don’t buy into the idea that there is some kind of template that is correct for everyone across the board, and they don’t regard themselves or their fellows as static, rather as living beings who experience both internal and external climates of the mind and heart that are changeable through time. They tend to roll their eyes at lists like this, too.

6. They require validation, and understand that this is true of EVERYONE, but they qualify the opinions of others. Only those whom they trust will they take seriously. Everyone else gets a conversation with the hand until and unless such time as that person or persons show an ability to use good judgment, as opposed to being judgmental. If they decide you have an agenda that is self serving at the expense of others (that is, to no benefit for others up to and including their destruction), then at best you will be given limited qualification, and likely none at all.

7. They don’t buy into the idea that their whole lives are open to criticism. People who do so without an invitation end up on the “Not Qualified” list, and are eschewed. People who ask questions or offer suggestions in good faith, however, are welcome.

8. They ask questions and do research and talk to anyone willing to answer questions before jumping willy nilly into anything, especially if there is high risk involved. They get a good grounding in the basics, and move carefully when ready, knowing that from their new position they can learn more and then move on from there. They don’t skip steps in pursuing their dreams, they don’t use other people’s templates except insofar as they’re actually useful, and are realistic about their current abilities, skills and knowledge, while knowing that they have the capacity to learn more, so they position themselves carefully with an eye toward gaining clear knowledge.

9. They understand the intersection of ethics and aesthetics, and that although comparisons can be invidious and insidious, they also see that making distinctions is vitally important. They don’t compare apples and oranges, and then blame an orange for not being good at being an apple. They understand that meaning, being subjective and mobile, is created, and are willing to understand a person or a situation or a thing on its own terms, as well as in comparison to what they already know. They understand the importance of creating in tandem with another person that thing we casually refer to as “common ground,” such that a lexicon that has meaning for BOTH parties emerges that is based on the ACTUAL participation of both parties, and includes each individual’s spin. They don’t seek to be a “love and light” type, because they know that’s just as fraught with pitfalls as being a “nasty brutish and short” type. In other words, they pay real attention to the actual person they’re dealing with, and see themselves as an important part of that engagement. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and not everyone or everything will be beautiful in the same way as anything else.

10. They engage in a practical compassion that keeps the door open for those whose spirits may be oppressed, while keeping such individuals at a relative safe distance until they have learned enough to use better judgment, and may even engage in subtle actions to help this process along. They understand that it is critically important to bother with people who are angry and fearful, because such people are first, unhappy and need help, and second, can in their torment foment atrocity large or small.

As an “authentic” person, I am honest enough to admit that I absolutely care whether you like me or not—we ALL care about that. We all use that information to make choices about ourselves and each other. I don’t believe I’m independent of my fellows, nor self-contained. Just I pick my battles carefully, and the objective is not to win, but to understand.

My suggestion to folks reading this list, or any list, is instead of figuring out whether you measure up to it, instead do what I did, and write your OWN list about YOU. Because I betcha each person’s list will be a little bit (or a lot) different, as well as sharing elements with other’s lists.

Cheers!

DM